June 23, 2008
June 23, 2008
The world is unprepared for a flu pandemic, health officials said at a conference in Malaysia, citing a lack of political commitment, funding and a vaccine to protect humans against bird flu.
Without a vaccine against the deadly H5N1 strain, there’s no way of protecting billions of people who would be at risk should a pandemic start soon, officials from the US, UK and World Health Organisation (WHO) said at the International Congress on Infectious Diseases in Kuala Lumpur.
“We are a long way from being fully prepared,” Julie Gerberding, director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters. “We do not have a vaccine that will provide universal protection, we do not have surveillance in every country, we do not have control of the virus in the animal reservoirs, and we have huge gaps in our basic understanding of influenza.
Bird flu has killed 243 of the 385 people it is known to have infected since late 2003, the Geneva-based WHO says. Most of the cases followed close contact with birds. Health officials are concerned the virus could mutate into a form capable of passing as easily between people as it does between birds.
Public attention to the threat of an influenza pandemic peaked after the first human H5N1 infections in 2003, and has waned on perceptions the threat has eased, Gerberding said.
Confusion about who to trust for information, misplaced confidence that a solution will be found or a belief that nothing can be done to stop an outbreak brings complacency, the biggest threat to containing a pandemic, she said.
“Certainly at higher levels in many governments there is no longer the concern there was five years ago,” said David Heymann, the WHO’s assistant director-general for communicable diseases.
…Recently Japan, like other countries with active H5N1 infections and prior human infections, has announced plans to begin vaccinations of first responders, as well as a broader population, in the upcoming months, in advance of an H5N1 outbreak. This approach is supported by the above results, and provides a number of advantages over stockpiling…
Although the current set of targets may not be exact matches of circulating H5N1, the virus is not established in human populations, so the use of these vaccines is unlikely to accelerate H5N1 evolution. In contrast, stockpiling vaccine and subsequent use after a pandemic begins is likely to accelerate H5N1 evolution, which will impact subsequent vaccines, which will require approximately 6 month to create and distribute. Trailing a rapidly evolving H5N1 by six months would limit the effectiveness of the pandemic vaccine.
Thus, stockpiling vaccines for use by first responders may have significant downside for the general population, which could be overcome by starting vaccinations now, to prime a broad population for future booster shots.
Great. Just great.
June 23, 2008
A MOTHER is accused of partially skinning her caged son and feeding it to relatives.
Kalra Mauerova, 31, of Brno in the Czech Republic, wept in court as she admitted torturing her son Ondrej, and his ten-year-old brother, Jakub, The Sun reported.
Ms Mauerova, a member of the Grail Movement cult, caged Ondrej for months while relatives, also members of the cult, ate his raw flesh, a judge heard yesterday.
The court in Brno heard the family sexually abused the boys and made them cut themselves with knives.
The boys said they were kept in cages or handcuffed to tables and made to stand for days in their own urine.
The abuse was discovered when a man living nearby installed a TV monitor to keep watch on his newborn baby.
Instead of pictures of his newborn he was confronted by live images of Ondrej naked in the cellar — beaten and chained, The Sun reporrted.
Ms Mauerova is understood to have installed the monitor so she could watch her victims suffering from her kitchen.
Police were called, and the boy and his brother, as well as what appeared to be a 13-year-old girl, were freed.
The teenage girl later turned out to be 34 — and one of the torturers.
Ms Mauerova accused the woman — fellow cult member Barbora Skrlova — of brainwashing her.
“Terrible things have happened. I realise it and can’t understand how I could have allowed it,” Ms Mauerova was reported as saying.
The court heard the abuse of Ondrej and Jakub was co-ordinated via text messages sent by a leader of the Grail Movement cult — who was known only as the “Doctor”.
The trial of Ms Mauerova, another relative and their bogus sister Skrlova — who fled and was later found posing as a boy in Norway — continues.
June 23, 2008
Dan Greenburg, in The Chronicle Review:
Conclude there’s no crisis, and what do you get? Official Washington and the mainline press pass you by without a sniff.
That’s pretty much what’s happened with an intriguing report recently issued by the RAND Corporation, “U.S. Competitiveness in Science and Technology.” Contrary to establishment doctrine, RAND’s researchers concluded that the American scientific enterprise leads the world by a wide margin in expenditures and research output, continues to grow at a healthy pace, and is not slumping into decrepitude.
Piling on the heresies, they assert that the U.S. is not short of scientists or engineers, and U.S. expenditures per student on elementary and secondary education are on par with those of other rich nations.
There are problems, the report acknowledges, such as poor student performance in math and science and disruptive financial ups and downs in particular fields of science, but these are not seen as fatal. Moreover, RAND asserts, the large immigrant contingent in American science is a blessing, not a danger, and these foreign scientists are mainly staying on, not returning home, despite woeful forecasts of imminent departure. “Wage and employment trends do not show the traditional signs of a shortage of scientists and engineers,” the report states. Conclusion: By world standards, we’re doing very well in science and technology. There is no crisis.
Conducted by RAND’s National Defense Research Institute for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the study contrasts sharply with the drumbeat of doom emanating for decades from the scientific establishment, with attendant echoes in the general press. Drawing on generally accepted statistical data, RAND found: The U.S. accounts for 40 percent of the world’s R&D spending, 38 percent of patented new technologies by the industrialized nations, employs 70 percent of the world’s Nobel laureates, and is home to 58 percent of the world’s top 100 universities. In R&D spending, the U.S. is growing faster than the European Union and Japan.
Regarding the globalization of science — often cited as a threat to the American research enterprise — the report points out that inventions and discoveries, regardless of where made, can and often do benefit the U.S.
The RAND report stands out because gloomy findings predominate in assessments of American science. In 1985, for example, the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for the National Science Foundation expressed exasperation with the din of doom: “It’s the same argument every year, about losing the lead.” In 2005, the National Research Council — the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences and its subsidiaries — issued a blockbuster compilation of R&D anxiety, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” which still reverberates around Washington as science-policy gospel.
To be noted about the standard reports is that they generally come from organizations dominated by senior scientists, university administrators, and corporate executives. The scientists and university administrators genuinely believe that science at their institutions, but elsewhere, too, requires more government money than is available at the given moment. More is better, in their opinion, and they are not concerned with opportunity costs or the possibility that, perhaps, some science money is ill spent.
In recent years, their corporate colleagues have been pulling out of basic research, shunning it as expensive, uncertain in outcome, and vulnerable to exploitation by competitors: not a wise investment for a company beset by Wall Street sharks. The preference of the corporate chiefs is federal government finance of the science they need and used to do. With full conviction in the accuracy and urgency of doomsday reports, they sign on.
The RAND study was expertly reported by Richard Monastersky June 13 in the Chronicle, “Despite Recent Obits, U.S. Science and Engineering Remain Robust.” The full report is available at http://www.rand.org.
June 23, 2008
Exiled Iraqi writer Najem Wali travelled to Israel to uncover some uncomfortable truths about Arab leaders.
When a child is born in Israel or to us in the Arab world, the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is flowing in its umbilical cord. Since the declaration of the state of Israel on May 14 1948, Israel has been the official enemy number one for the Arab states.
But even as a child I found the rhetoric didn’t add up. How could this somehow “all-powerful” country so successfully “let the Arab nations sink into lethargy”, as the official speeches would have us believe? And why, at the same time, were they so confident that the “small state of Zionist gangs” would inevitably “disappear from the map”? I never found a convincing answer. Nor did I ever make the connection between the “Jew question” and the “Palestine question”, between the victims of the Holocaust and the victims of Israel’s foundation.
Maybe I needed to wait for French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre to visit Israel before I could discover his key existentialist principle: get to know the other before you form an opinion of him! Did following this path not involve more than honouring the call to recognise Israel? Did it not mean accepting the other and welcoming him as a partner? This would mean acknowledging the fact that Jews and Arabs live side by side in Palestine and both are obliged to find a solution which is acceptable to both peoples, without third-party intervention. There can be no peace without talking directly with the other side and learning about their way of life.
Why do our leaders fear this truth? They are scared that their countrymen would recognise that the only link between the standstill and devastation of Arab societies and the Arab-Israeli conflict is this: peace with Israel would bring an end to the opium high with which Arab leaders keep their nations in a state of inertia. This is the cause of the problems for which Israel is being blamed.
The sustained absence of economic recovery, the drop in education levels, the spread of fundamentalist ideology are all linked with a lack of democracy and the corrupt ruling families, with their pompousness and contempt for their peoples – not with Israel. There are plenty of raw materials and human resources to kickstart the Arab economy. But what are we seeing? A political stranglehold on personal freedom which is eroding the middle classes. Bribery and favouritism force the virtuous and the educated to emigrate. What has Israel got to do with this?
In the meantime Israel, which is embroiled in the same conflict as the Arabs, has built up a modern society of astounding scientific and economic strength. Yes there is militarism in Israel. Its brutal policy of occupation must be addressed. But I will leave this to the Israeli intellectuals. They should fight for peace, just as some Arab intellectuals are starting to do.
When I travelled through Israel in 2007, it dawned on me why the Arab states are so reluctant to let their countrymen cross over into Israel. They fear that the traveller might make comparisons – between the civil rights in Israel and those in their homeland, for example. He might meet the “Arabs of ‘48“, the Palestinians whom Israel’s army was unable to drive out. He would see that these Palestinians basically enjoy the same rights as all other citizens. That they are allowed to express their views and live their traditions without fear of imprisonment. He would meet Palestinians who are allowed to vote for their representatives and found their own political parties. When the traveller compares the situation of these people with his own, or with the situation of the Palestinians who live in his country – he might suddenly see the injustice, the betrayal, to which the Arabs in his homeland have had a lifetime’s exposure in the name of “occupied Palestine”.
Israel has not overturned democracy even under the pressure of war. But the citizens in Arab countries are worth nothing to their leaders.
My “journey into the heart of the enemy” was an attempt to pursue the direction which Egyptian literary Nobel Prize laureate, Naguib Mahfouz, laid out in 1978 in a letter to his Israeli colleague Sasson Somekh: “I dream of the day when, thanks to the collaboration among us, this region will become a home overflowing with the light of learning and science, and blessed by the highest principles of heaven.”
He didn’t live to see his dream fulfilled. Naguib Mahfouz died in 2006. In 1994 he survived an Islamist assassination attempt. A year later Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli premier, was murdered by an Israeli extremist for his contribution to the peace process.
I hope people on both sides will continue to defy intimidation, risking their lives in the unrelenting fight for peace. Sixty years after the founding of Israel, I want to believe in Mahfouz’s vision.